Friday, August 12, 2016

The "Thank You" grift hustle...


As the WBAI Summer Fund Drive all too predictably runs dry and slumps into forced overtime, mis-manager Berthold Reimers and his cronies remain clueless as to the reasons why. Not so, the remnants of a listenership that once saw the station as a beacon of enlightenment. 

It is no secret that WBAI's listener-sponsors have dwindled down to the lowest figure in the station's 56-year history, chased off by pedestrian programming and producer/hosts whose work insults even the mildest intelligence.

In recent years, an increasing number of devoted listeners sensed the slow dilution of program substance and bemoaned the ever narrowing scope of WBAI's audience focus. The station was clearly veering farther off course, but this change was not part of a need to keep up with an evolving culture—Pacifica's DNA was designed to do that—it was regression, a deep dip into an era of ignorance and racial division. WBAI was in the hands of taking several steps back to reflect a mindset that and an a mission drift, but it had made it through coups, attempts to make it the rhythmic vent for a salsa fad, and content as it underwent a mission drift too incredulous not to dismiss. Even the somewhat watered down Pacifica station contrasted impressively everything else found on the radio dial. 

And so it went, gradually moving towards the very broadcast concepts Pacifica founder Lewis Hill had set out to contrast.

When Pacifica decided to become more overtly democratic, adopting the parliamentary procedures of Robert's Rules to include the election of listener-sponsors and staff to its national and local governing bodies, the seeds of decay were sown.

Before that, the Pacifica Foundation board was comprised of established people from the academic and business worlds. They hired the Managers who ran the stations more or less autonomously, submitted annual budgets for the National Board's approval and gave regular reports at regular meeting throughout the year. Pacifica rarely involved itself in the day to day operation of its station, and then only with a suggestion. As WBAI's manager, I can only recall one such occasion: A Board member suggested that we changed the broadcast time of our weekday "Programs for Young People," but I disagreed, and that was the end of that.

Berthold Reimers—his paid staff reduced to a handful of opportunists—surrounds himself with opportunists who know as little about broadcasting as he does, producer/hosts who ignore the station's principles and aims in favor of satisfying their own egos, personal agendas and limp "activism". They purport to be standing up for the rights of "black and brown" people, but their racist approach has the opposite effect. They jealously guard what they consider to be their turf, some having been either lack or obscure the vision that once drove WBAI to the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. We made that journey by reporting the truth and giving an outlet to real visionaries whose experiences and insights mattered and influenced the thinking of burgeoning leaders.

When flower children roamed Greenwich Village streets. WBAI was a reasoned voice in the wilderness. Supported financially by listeners who craved a grounding look over their shoulders as well as a clearer view ahead. In return, they asked only for the station's ongoing development and existence.

That's the premise upon which the Pacifica Foundation was created in 1949 by post-war Bay Area peaceniks. It introduced to the U.S. a radical broadcasting concept motivated by the horrors and senselessness of global conflict as well as by a communications industry that seemed not to have learned the inherent lesson of war: a radio station that maintained a high level of intelligence, sought the truth, and was tethered only to its listeners.

When the concept materialized in the form of Berkley station KPFA-FM, it was received well but in moderation. Ten years later, it was still on the air and—along with KPFK, a North Hollywood sister station—discerningly challenging commercial broadcasters. Not everybody loved Pacifica's stations, but they won wide respect among a public and colleagues who recognized the need for alternative voices.

Applied to Pacifica, "alternative" did not necessarily translate into contrary or rebellious attitude—although that was sometimes implied—but rather into freedom of speech, unconstrained artistic expression, microphone access based upon ability, substance and vision rather than popularity, and something as basic as a flexible air allowance. A program was only as long or short as the time it took to deliver it.

In 1959, Louis Schweitzer—a remarkable businessman, the son of a successful Russian immigrant—decided that Pacifica was on the right path, so he made the Foundation a no strings attached gift of WBAI-FM, his small but powerful New York City station that had served to satisfy an abiding interest in audio technology. It was a commercially licensed station located between NBC and CBS on the dial, but Lou wanted it to reflect his cultural interests, so he accepted advertising from the likes of Steinway and MOMA, not Proctor an Gamble. "On your way from NBC to CBS," he liked to say, "stop in for refreshment."

It was Pacifica's near-European approach to radio that made me move my FM dial to 99.5 in late 1960. I had lived in the U.S. for two years and spent most of that time working in commercial radio, but here was something I could love and identify with. Soon, I was a WBAI volunteer, then a salaried board operator, and eventually the Station Manager.

I admired the high level of intelligence WBAI's programming mirrored, but just as impressive was the staff's common goal and high spirit. It was not a picture of perfect harmony, but the internal disagreements were what one might expect to find in a work place driven by political idealism, artistic expression and a determination to beat the odds against survival in what FCC Commissioner Newton Minow described as a vast wasteland. 

In its formative years, the Sixties, WBAI served as a vital link to the past and a crystal ball gaze at what lay ahead. Its own future seemed assured by the extraordinary caliber of people it attracted on both sides of the microphone—a cultural revolution was taking place and WBAI seemed made for it.

What happened? Simply put, how did the Riesling turn to Ripple? Theories abound, the transition team of opportunists changes gradually with each hiring mistake and many are gone and forgotten as current occupants—now abetted by a corrupt PNB voting majority—reach the nadir of WBAI's existence. 

A few stalwart savants continue to deliver isolated moments of intelligence and enlightenment, but the never perfect, always remarkable little station some of us remember remains hijacked by people of minimal thought and maximal self-interest—an obscure rubble in the country's largest and most significant radio market, a stagnant third rate racist outlet where hare-brained neer-do-wells compete for undeserved attention.

Riddled with lies and deceit, this is a complex, confused story that is likely to remain untold, but many factors have led WBAI to the end of its tether. The last straw may well be found in the station's fund raising scam, a conduct that has crossed the border of criminality and rendered the terms "honesty", "integrity" and "morality" meaningless.

The so-called "studio" at Atlantic Avenue is not equipped to take calls from listeners, that service having been cut for non-payment of a $28,000 bill. Because "Off the Hook," like many live WBAI programs, is designed for two-way communication with its listeners, the show's technically savvy producers improvised a temporary connection, as evidenced in the attached audio excerpt.

It should be noted that OTH creates its own premiums and delivers them to the station manager ready for shipment to consumers (who have paid a price that includes s&h). Management (i.e. Berthold Reimers) collects the paid fee, but—with alarming regularity—fails to follow up on the station's obligation. As you will hear on the attached audio clips from last Wednesday's OTH, this criminal practice on the part of management is systematic and dates back at least two years.

These calls are but a short sample of commonplace complaints; bear them in mind the next time you hear Reimers or a crony like Mitchel Cohen deny any wrongdoing. Think of this, too, when you hear Tony Bates distort black history or offer a bogus "cure", or when Haskins, Davis, Reggie Johnson or any of the other deluded deceivers refer to WBAI as a "free speech" station that deserves your donations.

The truth is that WBAI is where these con artists lie, repeatedly.

7 comments:

  1. howard jordan... gonna talk about voter supression and the new police commissioner , plus
    charles barron .
    First 2 are code for black moaning and whining , charles barron... well, pretty obvious there .
    racist ,predictable and boring , as usual.

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    1. You mean, Charles "I want to go up to the closest white person and say, ‘You can’t understand this, it’s a black thing’ and then slap him, just for my mental health" Barron.

      KGT

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  2. Says it well.

    I'm curious. What kind of programming did WBAI have before Schweitzer gifted it to Pacifica?

    SDL

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    1. Commercials were kept to a minimum, but this was the late '50s and FM was too limited for Madison Avenue to bother. Lou did, however hire a time salesman.

      The programming was not unlike Pacifica's, Lou was well connected, so he gave air time to seasoned veterans, like Henry Morgan, and he had Gunther Schuller, Dan Morgenstern, and others, all knowledgable authorities in their respective fields. Perhaps the most interesting (and costly) thing he did was to carry the Chicago Symphony live via hi-res wire, something that had never before been done over that distance.

      A young couple complained over poor reception, Lou sent them airfare and tickets to the live concert. He also had regular announcements encouraging listeners to call the station if they experience poor reception, knowing that it usually was an antenna problem. He would then put on overalls, park his Rolls out of sight but within walking distance and introduce himself as a technician from WBAI. It was nothing for him to spend a couple of hours rigging an antenna for some housewife in the Bronx. He loved that sort of thing.

      He also participated in an experimental stereo transmission project.

      When Chris Koch attempted to smear me and destroy WBAI, we received piles of letters from irate listeners cancelling their membership. Susan Brownmiller (VV) and a couple of other irresponsible "journalists" played Chris' game and she—abetted on the air by lowlife like Steve Post and Larry Josephson*–added that Lou was calling the shots, I was his puppet, etc. All total bullshit, but some of the letters we received pointed a finger at him, using the nickname she had come up with, "Fat Cat Schweitzer."

      Lou, a very cool old man, never ever tried to call any shots at WBAI—he would help us financially if we needed it, but he did not interfere with programming. He asked me if I would send him copies of letters that names him, so I did. He would then visit the complainants and—without fail—win them over.

      I received several follow-up letters of apology, often with membership renewal.

      Koch was a superb producer with, what I thought was true devotion to WBAI, so his back-stabbing was a real shock.

      Anyway, Lou Schweitzer remains one of my fondest memories from the old WBAI days.

      * I am told that Josephson eventually saw the light and graduated from ass to asset.

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  3. I'm guessing it wasn't about slavery. And that is the cotton picking truth! haha

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  4. This is not only a very informative article Chris, but beautifully written. I've been meaning to take the time out to compliment you on your riveting and gripping writing style. You really are an excellent writer

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    1. Thank you, Stephen, I greatly appreciate your kind words and miss our exchanges of old.

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